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The hardest thing about change is making the change happen

The hardest thing about change is making the change happen. It’s not easy, it can take time and you need to know where to start. A few years ago, I knew I needed a change. My life wasn’t right, and it needed something to happen. I had to do something about it, and one small decision changed everything.

For over 20 years I worked in the NHS, for most of it as an information analyst. I was never a statistician, nor was I technically minded when it came to computer coding. I could see patterns, discern facts and figures, and relay complex information in simple terms. I was very good at that, good enough to keep my job but also gain good performance reviews, yet because of things I did not have talents in, I could not progress it as a career, unless you count moving sideways as progression. I moved from one team to another to another, gaining experience of many areas, but not anything I could use to become more than I was. The longer it went on, the heavier the weight became. It was starting to break me with two conflicting truths – being good enough, but not good enough. I couldn’t see a way out and I didn’t know what to do about it.

Work is not everything

Work is not everything, and my escape had been amateur theatre. I spent many years immersed in acting, directing, and eventually organising. I worked my way up to a place where I was running around doing things, sorting things, speaking to people and along the way it became more consuming than my actual day job. I didn’t delegate much, though when I did, it came back to me to deal with. It meant the whole theatre experience had stopped being fun and the politics of the situation started clouding how I felt about the people and the whole thing.

I got tired of what felt like constant fighting with people that I had considered to be friends, but now people that I best I couldn’t rely on for support, or at worst I couldn’t trust. I didn’t know if this was me or if it was them, but what I did know was how it was making me feel. I felt I was doing so much with limited appreciation, and it felt like being at work. Unlike being at work, I could walk away, so I did before it broke me. I probably should have done it a lot sooner than I did, but for whatever reason, I didn’t.

As I said, theatre took up much of my time. Initially, it was rehearsing three or four nights a week, plus a full week on show weeks. Then came committee meetings, emails, and correspondence, organising things on behalf of others, negotiating with the theatre management… Every other evening was something, and some lunch breaks when I was working. All this and a full-time job had taken away any real free time, but now without theatre, my time was my own. I could do things again. I went to concerts rather than be on a stage. I caught up with TV rather than going to meetings. I started a course rather than rehearsing.

Starting a counselling course

I started an introduction to counselling introduction course, which was only going to be a few weeks, but soon led to a Level 2 Counselling Certificate. I was hooked and I went on to the Level 3 Certificate, and finally the Level 4 Diploma course. I never planned it to be this way, but I was not only enjoying the learning as it became clear to me that it was not only my way out of the NHS, but for the first time in a long time it was something I wanted to do.

That’s not to say that retraining in your 40s is an easy decision. As with all learning, courses and books aren’t cheap and there are time commitments for studying, writing, and reading, and this is for all courses. In counselling there’s also time for client work because you need to get the hours of experience in to qualify, and then there are the additional costs for personal therapy and supervision once you start seeing clients. Plus, you might also need things like insurance, and other bits that crop up, extra financial costs.

Then there’s what it does to you as a person. You reveal yourself, learn things about who you are, who you aren’t, and how you relate to people. For me, there were a lot of things I had no idea about and misconceptions that were dispelled, and I needed headspace to reflect on what I was and what I was becoming. I don’t think anyone can come away from the training without being changed in some way.

It gave me the space to reflect on my life, what I was doing, and why I was doing things. The training and my own personal therapy helped with the issues and feelings I had gained from my work situation, how I had reacted to what was happening at during my time at the theatre and my walking away from it, and, yes, looking at events in my personal life and how it shaped me. I learned a lot of things about myself that I had never considered, things I had thought were not issues that were, and things I thought were issues that weren’t. I could never have done all this and theatre as well, and leaving the theatre behind gave me some space but fitting it around the day job was not easy but I got lucky.

Call it fate or just coincidence

Some will call it fate, others just that it was just coincidence but just when I was getting to a point where time was becoming an issue, my NHS workplace announced that it going to reshape itself, that everyone had to reapply for their own jobs, and redundancy would be an option for those who could not demonstrate that they would fit in the new organisation. When I originally got my job, the criteria for hiring someone like me was vastly different. For the same reasons I couldn’t progress, I knew I wouldn’t make the cut. I was already retraining so I didn’t try that hard to keep my job and eventually was made redundant.

I was fortunate. I was retraining and thanks to a lengthy amount of service, it left me with enough money and time to focus fully on my studies, freed me up to get more client work, as well as heal my mind. In some ways, counselling training took up a lot of the time I had spent at the theatre, but it also freed me to enjoy life more. It didn’t go smoothly as it might, as the pandemic slowed things down and complicated it a lot, but I kept going, eventually getting my diploma.

The past cannot be changed, and the future is whatever we make it.

Where I was at the start of this journey feels a lifetime from where I am now. I never intended on being a counsellor when I made the first change – walking away from something where I was unhappy – but that one change led to further changes and now I’m happier in myself. I have work I enjoy, time for myself and my family. I’m getting paid for my work and it’s starting to take me in directions I’d never considered, even working with the NHS again, except this time as a counsellor. I have learned much, and I am still learning, always learning, and my most important lesson? I’ve learned who I want to be. I never dreamed it would be who I am, but I know that this is right for me.

The past cannot be changed, and the future is whatever we make it.

This article was written by David Wheatley, another highly respected member of the UKCN family who has gone on to flourish in a career that he is passionate about. David was a runner-up in our recent Blog competition.

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